No pot of gold at the end of the IMF rainbow

At this weekend’s IMF and World Bank spring meetings, Global ministers warned that the economic crisis risks derailing the MDGs and, in the closing communiqué, “urged donors to accelerate delivery of commitments to increase aid, and for us all to consider going beyond existing commitments.”  But, in the end, they did very little to provide immediate relief to the world’s poorest.

During the closing news conference held on Sunday, World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that most of the UN Millennium Development Goals on poverty, hunger, education, equality, disease and infant mortality, were in jeopardy. “Before this crisis the Millennium Development Goals on overcoming poverty by 2015 already looked like a stretch. Our latest research shows that most unfortunately most of these eight globally agreed goals are unlikely to be met. We must continue to act in real time to prevent a human catastrophe.”  More of his speech here

The ministers also called on the Bank to assess whether it has enough resources to aid the poorest nations and asked it to report back by October.

In advance of the meetings the World Bank and IMF released the Global Monitoring Report 2009: A Development Emergency (GMR). It warns that that achievement of the Millennium Development Goals are still within reach, but growing more elusive by the day. 

According to the report:

It is estimated that an additional 55 to 90 million people will be trapped in extreme poverty in 2009 due to the worldwide recession. The number of chronically hungry people is expected to climb to over 1 billion this year, reversing gains in fighting malnutrition and making the need to invest in agriculture especially urgent.

Civil society groups left the meeting disappointed because the IMF missed a golden opportunity to come to agreement to provide desperately needed debt relief through gold sales for the world’s poorest countries, instead re-affirming the commitment made by the G-20 to double new lending to poor countries, while instructing the IMF to explore ways of making those loans more concessional. 

The Guardian newspaper today takes a look at the super-sized IMF and its recent lending track record, quoting a study from the Washington-based Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). They say that while rich countries are encouraged to undertake large-scale fiscal stimulus to kick-start economic growth, the IMF program forces poor countries receiving loans to cut back on spending and reduce budget deficits.

There is some window of opportunity because the communiqué leaves open the possibility to provide non-debt creating resources for poor countries from IMF gold. There are growing calls from key governments, African Finance Ministers, and anti-poverty groups to support up to $5 billion in poor country debt relief from the sale of IMF gold and to ensure that G8 countries take action before their July summit in Italy. 

Because Congress must approve new funds for the IMF, groups like the ONE Campaign and Jubilee USA are urging Congressional leaders to support IMF gold sales for debt relief and to advocate for the removal of harmful economic policy conditions on IMF loans.

The Millennium Campaign has consistently said (pdf) that additional resources must be delivered free of harmful conditionalities and without causing another downward spiral of debt.

And if it all these crises – food, energy, economic and climate change weren’t bad enough, the World Health Organization reports that that growing cases of swine flu have the potential to become a global pandemic, furthering impacting the ability of countries to achieve the MDGs.